Updated: Jul 5, 2018
This past weekend was the 56th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway (DIS) for International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (WTSC) series race. IMSA series classes include the Prototypes (P), GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD). With Prototype Challenge (PC) starting the 2018 season completing the first race during the “Roar Before the 24” held at Daytona International Speedway (DIS) January 6.
After a yellow flag filled Friday racing with the four hour Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge (CTSC) race, fans at the 56th running of the Rolex 24 race at DIS waited for the start with nervous anticipation especially with first time drivers and first time manufacturers in the hunt for the watch!
Even before the green flag, Wright Motorsports had the race event first disappointment when qualifying and starting driver, Robert Renauer, tapped the wall during the formation laps. The Porsche was repaired and over 40 laps down, re-entered the race.
Oddly enough two teams #7 Team Penske Acura DPi with Ricky Taylor driving and later #62 Risi Competizone Ferrari, with James Calardo driving, had driver side door issues. The drivers had to manoeuvre around the track while grabbing and holding the door closed until the car could pit.
Heading into Rolex 24 weekend, weather is always a major topic. It always rains sometime. While rain sprinkles came and went Saturday and Sunday, the only significant weather occurred with about 19 hours to go as it poured for about 20 minutes.
While I recorded an interview with Harry Tincknell, driver of the #55 Mazda Team Joest DPI, our best conversation was spontaneous. For the 2017 Rolex 24 race, Harry was with Chip Ganassi Team driving the #69 Ford GT. I asked is there anything from driving GT he could take into driving the DPi? Harry provided a very interesting response describing how this year while driving the DPi and when approaching GT cars on DIS track, he relies on his past experience to help him navigate around the GT knowing the line and position the GT driver would take. Value lesson learned to always have the recorder on since this was one of the top two driver chats I had all weekend.
I hope no race fans used “flat right rear” as a drinking game phrase. The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi team had the biggest hit experiencing five tire punctures with two resulting in heavy right-rear damage. With just over six hours left in the race, the team and Cadillac officials retired the car. Driver Renger van der Zande was on board for two of the five flat tires and limped the car back to the pits each time.
The tire issues continued with #25 BMW Team RLL getting a flat front tire, returned to pit road only to go to the garages to check for further damage. Car #23 United Autosport Ligier LMP2 with Phil Hanson at the wheel, experienced a flat tire with 16:24 left to race. Phil carefully brought the car back to pit road with fender parts flying about. Car #37 Jackie Chan DCR JOTA ORECA suffered right rear tire puncture with 46 minutes remaining. Car #29 Montaplast Racing Audi R8 GT3 was a right rear tire victim with 20 minutes to go in the race. Car #77 Mazda Team Joest DPI did everyone a bit better and lost the complete wheel off the right rear of the car.
Other car retirements included the #2 ESM Nissan DPi with a gearbox issue and #22 ESM due to engine troubles. What a difficult start to 2018 for this fan favorite team. With a tire puncture and going flat, many of the cars were able to continue to pit road without major incident keeping the racing under green and not bringing out the dreaded yellow flag.
Keeping in mind there are very few turns which would impact the right rear at DIS and with much speculation has to why so many right rear tires had issues, race fan, William Zdanis provided me with his reasoning. From Billy, “I believe that one of the alligator strips in the bus stop is loose. There are plastic strips within the alligator strip that may have a fastener that has raised or is broken causing a sharp edge. It’s hit because they straighten out the corners there.” Sounds logical to me.
On Monday, Ryan Dalziel (ESM driver) in a reply to Jeff Braun (Race Engineer with CORE Autosport) tweeted, “I saw 2 prototype tires fail right in front of me, on two different cars. Both cars made mistakes and hit the bus stop right side curbs awkwardly. IMO the curbs should have been checked closely under yellow to rule that out.”
While it was a record breaking race with 808 laps completed in the 24 hours and with the first place Ford finish in the GTLM class by Chip Ganassi racing, Chip chalked up his 200th win! And in the last but not least category, GTD class saw the first Rolex 24 win by Lamborghini Huracan GT3 with the #11 Grasser Racing Team. Before what seemed to be a very long fuel only stop by car #33 Mercedes-AMG team Riley Motorsports, the battle between car #11 and Jeroen Bleekemolen in the #33 kept race fans glued to the broadcast.
The race was not without controversy. Car #29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 shortly after midnight was ordered to serve a 5 minute penalty for refueling violation. From Marshall Pruett, RACER Magazine reporter, “According the Christian Land, owner of the penalized No. 29 Audi R8 LMS GT3, the violation was for faster refueling/pit stops than expected. Refueling flow races, like everything else, is subject to BoP restrictions to equalize refueling time.”
The official news release from IMSA Vice President of Competition Simon Hodgson stated, “To measure refueling times, each entrant’s autonomous fuel tank is fitted with a mandated IMSA fuel level sensor and refueling restrictor, which are inspected and sealed prior to the race. During a standard, in-race data review, IMSA observed a consistent and beneficial variance of the No. 29 car’s refueling times compared to the GTD class average. Based upon IMSA’s current and past event refueling data, this was deemed to be unacceptable. The entrant was informed of IMSA’s position and a penalty was administered.”
Which led Peter Baron (owner Starworks Motorsport) working for Land to post on Twitter, “Still gutted about the race. I will not go into details at this point but the car and all fueling equipment cleared tech after 3 hours of inspection. Please ignore speculation. Guessing is a waste of time. A PR from Land/Audi/Imsa will come later” I am sure we have not heard the last on the refueling violation.
The highlights for me included the return of #99 “Red Dragon” JDS Motorsports with Bob Stallings Gainsco Racing and meeting Fernando Alonso, F1 driver and with United Autosport. Yes, it seemed like Fernando was the only driver being mentioned during the weekend with professional sports car journalist John Dagys tweeting, “Reading stories on some other media outlets, it makes me think this is the #Alonso24 and not #Rolex24”
With all the excitement over Alonso, I will admit he made himself very available for the press and came into the media center no less than three times in one day and staying to answer many follow-up questions. Unfortunately, the DIS security staff was not prepared for the crowd of fans centered on Alonso at the autograph session.
To find all the results for Ferrari Challenge North America, CTSC, or WTSC, including hour by hour breakdown and practice sessions, please check here: http://results.imsa.com/
Thank you all for reading and I welcome your comments. I have no affiliation with IMSA, DIS, WTSC or CTSC. I am just a fan. There are many blogs and website where you will find statistics, results, and scoring from the race; this is just the way I see it. Got a response? Follow and tweet me @Viclovesracing
Message from Prescott Motorsport - We would very much like to thank both Vickie Miller for her words and tracking down drivers for interviews, and Matthew Boyce for his stunning images. You can find all Vickie's interviews HERE and a gallery of Matt's images HERE.
During 2018 we will be bringing you more IMSA coverage, extending our global sports car coverage!!